Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov said in an election broadside Saturday that ailing President Boris Yeltsin was too sick and old to rule Russia.
Apparently fit and 13 years younger, Yeltsin's opponent in next week's presidential election runoff seized on health problems that have kept the Kremlin chief out of the public eye.Comparing him unfavorably with senile Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, he said: "I am most of all worried that behind this ill health lies an inability to run the country and to control complex systems, his own words and the favoritism of his entourage, which is more and more prevalent."
Asked at a news conference if he had details of a strained voice that aides blamed Friday for Yeltsin's canceled meetings, the Communist
said he had no inside medical knowledge.
But he noted Yeltsin's heart trouble last year and said: "In my view, it's all a lot more complicated. On the other hand, at 65, after two serious heart attacks, you can't be in good health. Any country doctor will tell you that."
"If we're just talking about laryngitis then there would be no reason to cancel meetings with officials," Zyuganov said.
He jibed that Yeltsin used autocues for speeches, something he said not even Brezhnev had done in his declining years. Brezhnev died in power in 1982 aged 76.
Zyuganov, a hitherto lackluster campaigner, has been making much of his relative youth and celebrated his 52nd birthday last week by jiving for the cameras in a Moscow nightclub.
Yeltsin, who led Zyuganov by three points in the first round of voting on June 16 after lagging badly in polls early this year, used similar exuberant antics to his advantage during the campaign. But his rival said the effort had been his undoing.
"The strain his previous team put on him with rock concerts and long-distance trips has ended up with him now not in a condition to travel even on short trips," said Zyuganov.
He also slammed Yeltsin for canceling a trip to the Group of Seven industrial nations summit in Lyon, France this week.
Yeltsin has not appeared in public since Wednesday. Aides said Friday he was resting after straining his voice.
First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Lobov said he had no doubt Yeltsin would be re-elected. An opinion poll Saturday gave him a 25-point lead - though even the pollsters warned that was more than can be realistically expected Wednesday.